One can’t house-sit forever. Especially once the house’s residents return. Doubly especially once more than a month has passed since the house’s residents have returned, and you’re still bouncing about the place like…well, like an unwelcome house guest. So I fired up Flatmates.com.au and did some searching, seeking out the perfect ramshackle oddbox to experience proper, permanent sharehousing.
Simpsons Road, Bardon paid dividends in this regard. During the seven months I lived here, I got the full complement of He Died With a Felafel in His Hand-esque experiences. I mean, some people take decades to experience the gamut of housemate craziness. I got it all in one go.
For a start, the house was a Dr Seussian nightmare. Nestled about a third of the way up Brisbane’s Mt Coot-tha (you know how you refer to the “foot” of a mountain? Well by anatomical geography we were in the mountain’s crotch), the house perched on the steep ground in such a way that the front of the house was ground level, but the rear was held up by stilts. And not good stilts, either: the building was literally at risk of, at any moment, collapsing and rolling down the side of the valley from which it precariously jutted. A mattress on the floor in one corner of the lounge room marked out where it was unsafe to walk, partly because you could feel the lean of the floor in that spot, and partly for fear of cracking the building in half. To the left of the mattress there was a very fine vertical crack running down the one side of the lounge room wall; by the time I moved out it had become such a thick crack that sunlight shone through it.
The house was also continually under siege from possums and spiders. One spider was so big, as it climbed up a housemate’s lava lamp its legs went all the way around the lamp and met on the other side. One was so heavy, when we finally killed it (it took four people; that is a whole other story), and dropped it in the toilet, it made an audible donk as it hit the bottom of the bowl. I found one above the front door once, killed it with a broom (after all the screaming, obviously), swept the corpse away and by the time I’d turned around, another one the exact same size was in the exact same spot.
The spiders would have been the stuff of nightmares, except it wasn’t possible to have nightmares because nightmares only happen when you’re asleep, and it’s impossible to sleep with the constant CLOMPYCLOMPCLOMPCLOMPING of the possums both on the roof and under the floorboards. The only reprieve we got from the possums was when a massive python decided to move into the roof and eat all the possums. But then we were living in a house with a massive python, so sleep still eluded us.
It was living in Bardon that I got my first (and thankfully, only) taste of housemate thievery, too: six weeks after I moved in, Greg moved out: apparently taking with him one half of season two of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD and a pair of my shoes. I assume he needed the shoes to go to JB Hi Fi to buy the other half of that season of Buffy?
Greg moving out ushered in another first: living with a friend!
I met Sarah Collins in 2001 when we both worked as volunteers at B105. Today, she is my very best friend slash unofficial twin sister.
I’m sorry. I have to stop. That photo of Sarah and I that I posted is terrible. Let me try again.
Sarah and I realised we were unofficial twins when we kept finding weird similarities about ourselves: we both had family in Toowoomba (Sarah, in fact, was raised there). We wore the male/female equivalent of the same fragrance. We had even, long before we knew each other, both worked at the same glamour photography-selling telemarketing company. At the time of our meeting, in 2001, I was studying at The Actors Conservatory and still in the closet, while Sarah was in the closet about wanting to be an actor. We were two sides of the same coin.
With our lives so unwittingly entwined it was destined to happen at some point: in 2003, we both shared an address. The Bardon Spider Terrarium/Snake-Specific Possum Buffet.
I was so glad Sarah moved in. We hung out all the time anyway; this just made it easier. Sarah was the best person to watch bad TV with, and the best person with whom to orchestrate the perfect timing for doing laundry at the laundromat while simultaneously eating dinner at the Kookaburra Cafe next door*. Also, she gave free hair cuts. They weren’t good, but they were free.
But living with Sarah wasn’t just about good times and asymmetrical fringes. I needed Sarah at the Bardon Spider Terrarium/Snake-Specific Possum Buffet because I needed someone else to experience the wonder that was my other housemate, Ian.
What a conundrum Ian was. Ian, who coloured his hair with intense (and amazing) black and white stripes, but then sulked for weeks afterwards because “people won’t stop STARING at me!?” Ian, who regularly got not-insignificant chest infections, and would try to cure them by jogging up the mountain, because he believed the vitamin D helped him to fight infection. Ian, who so desperately wanted to “damn the man”, but was easily cowed by a single phone call from his mother (to be fair, she was terrifying). Ian, who valued privacy more than anything, and saw himself as quite mysterious, but within hours of me moving in had told me his entire life story in meticulous detail. Ian, who spouted the kind of tiresome, generic anti-American sentiment that was the launchpad for 70% of all our fights—he claimed Lantana was an excellent film because “there’s only one American in it, and she dies, ha ha ha!”—but who couldn’t tear his eyes away from the season one finale of American Idol that Sarah and I were watching one night. He even watched it in hiding, only poking his head out of his bedroom door to peek with one eye.
In Sarah’s first week, Ian insisted on the three of us having a “family dinner” together. He cooked, set the table, turned off all the lights in favour of scattered candles, and even draped a teatowel over his arm as he served dinner, like the Bardon Spider Terrarium’s fanciest waiter. As we began eating, Ian asked Sarah about herself. For twenty minutes, he grilled her about her life: her childhood, her siblings, her parents, her job, her goals, her dreams, her interests, her friends. He wanted to know everything about her. It was intense and weird, and it seemed like the beginning of some kind of Single White Female scenario.
But that’s not what it was.
After Ian’s last question, there was a long pause. Perhaps up to an entire minute of deeply, deeply uncomfortable silence. Then suddenly, Ian turns brightly to Sarah and says “Shall I…reciprocate?”
Before Sarah could answer—though not before she involuntarily shuddered—he launched into his own extraordinarily detailed life story. The exact same one I’d received when I moved in. Almost word for word. Start to finish. For forty minutes. He did not leave a single thing out.
I usually conclude stories involving other people with a thing I learnt from them. I learnt several things from Ian. The first, and most important, is to own your ego. If you want to talk about yourself, go ahead and have at it. Don’t try to disguise it as something else: you’ll only terrify people. Just go for it. This is a lesson I have clearly taken to heart, as this very blog is, so far, 48,000+ words of me talking about myself AND I HAVEN’T ASKED YOU ANYTHING.
The other things I learnt from Ian were about being a better housemate. Because this is my blog, I have the privilege of talking about everything from my perspective, and I’ve made Ian look like a crazy person and terrible housemate. And look, he was, but he was also very kind and generous. He was, in a way, loveable. Sure, he hugged weird and spent far too long in his room and was quite certain that “dark spirits” were following him around, but he was a sweet guy. He was certainly more tolerant of me than I was of him, or his spirits. I was a terrible housemate. (In my defence, my only other experiences with sharing a house included fleeing in terror after seven weeks and sharehousing by default because I refused to leave my housesitting gig once the owners came back. But still.)
At the end of 2003, Sarah
fled moved out, and our delicately choreographed laundromat/pizza dates* ended. In January of 2004, another coworker, who lived in Ascot (Ascot!), started asking around for a new housemate; I took him up on the offer and so I moved out too.
As far as I’m aware, Ian also got out of the Bardon Spider Terrarium/Snake-Specific Possum Buffet, before the lounge room snapped off the house entirely.
*FOOTNOTE: In case you live, or plan to live, in the Bardon/Paddington area, let us pass on our wisdom:
Christopher and Sarah’s Nine-Step, No-Wait Laundry/Pizza Plan
1. Go to laundromat, put clothes in washing machine.
2. Go next door to Kookaburra Café, take seat, order drink, chat until drink arrives.
3. Drink arrives, order food, sip drink.
4. Return to laundromat: clothes have just finished washing cycle. Put clothes in dryer.
5. Return to Kookaburra: food has just arrived. Eat food.
6. Finish food, order dessert to go.
7. Return to laundromat: clothes have just finished drying. Collect clothes.
8. Return to Kookaburra: dessert is ready. Collect dessert and pay.
9. Go back to BST/SSPB, eat dessert, fold clothes.